A/N: Spoilers for Home and Devils Trap. This assumes knowledge of Devils Trap. Unbeta'd.
'Attaboy, Sammy,' John thought and braced himself for the expected pain as the holy water soaked through to his skin. The abrupt lack of the expected pain hit him hard and he could have wept as the demon spoke to his sons without so much as a flinch.
John supposed he should have guessed that the demon would be immune to holy water and probably a good few of the other basic possession tests to be so confident of trapping his sons.
He railed at the demon who only laughed while John was forced to watch the demon's son beat Sammy to a pulp, and laughed even harder when Dean ran into the fray with no thought or planning and ended up flying into the nearest car. If he'd had any choice in the matter, he wasn't sure he'd be able to watch Sammy's blood flying either. Hell, if he had any choice in the matter he'd be throwing holy water, salt and Latin left, right and centre. As it was he could only watch, see if there was any opportunity to let his sons know he was carrying the demon on board.
And then he was the one laughing as Dean calmly and cleanly shot the demon's son straight through the head. It was a waste of one of their precious bullets and surely Dean could have found some other way, but at the same time, Sammy had been blindsided, hadn't stood a chance against the demon boy's speed and strength. His heart swelled with pride for both of his boys; together they were unstoppable, and he was certain that between them the demon would be defeated. John noted Dean's leadership whilst he was supposedly suffering from the beating and drugs the demons had given him and noted that Sam added his own thoughts and ideas, whilst getting on with the necessary details.
Once 'resting' in the cabin's only bed, John turned his attention once more to the demon inside him and fought against it, constantly testing the unforgiving boundaries that held him prisoner within his own body. The beating had been for show; his boys would have been far more suspicious if John had been in one piece when they found him, and John knew he would be in a fair bit of pain if the demon hadn't completely suppressed it. He could feel it now, rummaging around in his mind, trying to find useful tools to manipulate his sons into peacefully handing over the gun.
Almost at once, one memory sprang to the surface, a relatively recent one, and one of the few times he'd allowed himself to actually stop and think about his boys.
"They're coming here," John told Missouri with some surprise. He hadn't told them to come, wouldn't have done. He wasn't above forcing either young man face their fears, but to make Dean come back here after the last time would have been downright cruel, and the voice of eldest son on the voicemail message was uncharacteristically scared.
"How can I help?" Missouri asked and although John was aware that she probably already knew, he was also aware that she would make him speak, that she'd never been one to let him hide.
"I can't see them," he told her. He couldn't tell her how desperately he wanted to, but her eyes told him that she could feel the depth of that desperation. "They have my journal, they'll come here."
"And?" She raised an eyebrow at him, not allowing him to manipulate her into volunteering.
"It – I –" 'Please' wasn't a word that came easily to John, and he stumbled over asking the question. "Could you look out for them? It's not going to be easy for Dean, and maybe you could look over Sammy, see if anything's, see if he's, uh, make sure he's okay."
Missouri smiled and patted his knee. "For you John Winchester, I will do what I can. I don't like what you're doing to yourself, but this once, I will do what I can. Now tell me about your boys."
"Huh," John shook his head, he couldn't possibly tell her everything there was to tell. "I wouldn't know where to start."
"Well, tell me about Dean. Why are you so concerned for him? What do I need to know?"
"I guess," John thought about it. "Uh, there isn't much that scares Dean, I mean there are things that scare me, that don't even phase him and he just gets on with whatever needs doing. But here, he didn't deal well last time we were here, and I wouldn't have chosen to put him through this, not yet at least." Missouri didn't need to know the details, and he didn't care to elaborate. "It has to be Sammy's idea to come here, and Dean will do anything for Sammy, for me. He's stopped me doing something stupid a few times, you know? He looks out for us, always has."
Missouri nodded and handed John a mug of coffee that he didn't recall her making that he sipped at gratefully. "Just take your time, honey," she said.
"Dean's incredibly resilient and he can take just about anything, but it'll be much easier for him to cope if he's kept busy. Don't let him start thinking too hard and keep him focussed on the task in hand otherwise he'll likely get himself in trouble. Don't bother trying to mollycoddle him either. I know you got a big heart, Missouri, but Dean doesn't respond well to getting mothered and you'll only be disappointed."
"Oh, I've battled my share of belligerent kids, John, and I'll take your words under advisement but deal with him in my own way, thank you. Now what about Sam?"
"Heh, little Sammy," John couldn't stop the surge of guilt at the thought of his youngest. He bitterly regretted the way they'd parted and harboured a dread certainty that Sam would never want anything to do with him again. "Sam is a stubborn bastard who never learned to keep his mouth shut. Once he gets something in his head, he just won't let go. He's smart and independent and wanted to make a life for himself and I – I - ." John stopped with a bowed head.
"Sounds like someone sitting not too far away from me right now," Missouri said softly and John laughed.
"Yeah and that'd be the problem. We fought like cat and dog all the time he was growing up. And he got into Stanford on a scholarship and that's one hell of an achievement. But I couldn't make him see that away from me, I couldn't protect him. And poor little Jessica died for that."
John remembered one of his infrequent trips to check on Sam he'd seen his son shopping for a ring and he'd made a point of hanging around long enough to see the girl in question and check her out. John had known she was Sam's the instant he saw her even before Sam confirmed it with a bear hug and a kiss; she was the splitting image of Mary at that age.
"Sammy's special, Missouri," John said. "You told me that years ago, and I know it to be true. We need to watch out for him, be there for him and protect him, all of us."
The demon laughed and continued to rummage around, while John berated himself for getting sucked in and returned to trying to find a chink in his mental prison.
After a while the demon apparently decided to stop pretending to rest and join the boys. He paused just outside the doorframe, and John could virtually feel the demon planning. Dean had the gun, therefore it made sense to separate and isolate him and then have him hand it over.
John heard Dean's uncertainty regarding his shooting of the man in the alley, and felt the demon fish for the appropriate response. And the response the demon gave surprised John. It was perfectly valid and certainly reflected what he thought, but there was something odd about words like 'proud' coming from his mouth. And then the look on Dean's face, puzzlement, suspicion and strangely, hunger, all rolled into one confused expression.
The penny dropped for John as he realised that of course Dean would expect his father to give constructive criticism; that was what their relationship had always been like. He'd always treated Dean as an adult and done his best to make sure his eldest boy didn't make the same mistake twice. As the older of the two, Dean naturally bore more responsibility as often happened in single parent families, and Dean had been his right hand man since he was knee high. He knew his eldest son better than anyone, and Dean didn't need to be told how proud John was of him, because after over twenty five years of working and living together he already knew. Didn't he?
John dismissed that thought as being overly analytical, the important point being that for whatever reason Dean seemed to be just a little suspicious, and that could only work in John's favour. Once the boys realised he was possessed, they only needed to shoot him with the colt and the demon would be gone. And he would be with Mary. That last thought would have made him smile if he could.
'Please' was a word he couldn't recall ever using. He might have used it with Missouri, and maybe the odd waitress, but like others words the demon used with his mouth, it didn't sound right. And 'son'. When had he ever used that word in that tone? As a father to his son? Wrong words to come out of his mouth and he couldn't honestly say why that should bother him, but it confirmed Dean's suspicions.
John screamed at Dean to shoot him; it would be a perfect kill, but he knew long before the demon did that Dean couldn't. His eldest boy had known his mother and lost her and despite the training John had tried to give him, John knew that Dean would never be able to kill his father or his brother.
Sam might though. Even though they'd talked, old wounds still took time to heal and John was well aware that resentment still festered between them. And Sam burned with vengeance for Jessica.
As the demon revealed itself, though, John was staggered at the sudden surge of emotion it had been holding in check. Victory, rage and glee as it flung Sam and Dean into the walls, holding them there. The rush of victory that the demon allowed itself and John to feel was aimed at him, the demon revelling in the fact that it had the great dark hunter helpless in its thrall, a victim of his own prey.
The rage was aimed purely at Dean, anger that John recognised in himself every minute of every day when Mary was in his thoughts. Anger born of a terrible grief.
And the glee was aimed at Sam. There was annoyance at Sam's part in Dean's crimes, but the demon wasn't going to let that get in the way of the plans the demon had for his youngest. John only wished he could see what those plans were; gather information that might help Sammy's visions.
John noted the slightest shift as the demon concentrated on holding his boys to the wall. It was the tiniest drop in the power holding him prisoner in his own body and John noted it. But then he was distracted as the demon let all the rage in him loose upon his eldest son. The demon ripped words from John's own mind and for the first time he felt truly violated and raped, horror filled him as the demon stripped his mind, diluting everything relating to Dean to its darkest purity.
Every statement designed to shred his eldest son stabbed at John to the core, every twitch of Dean's jaw as he fought against the cruel words, twisting the knife deeper. Yet, Dean kept fighting, with attitude, with words and John tried to repay his son's efforts by fighting against his prison with renewed effort. If he could have screamed with frustration, he would have as the demon didn't even seem to notice his endeavours.
When Sam tried to distract the demon's attention toward himself John begged his youngest not to do it. He couldn't stand that one of his sons was being torn apart like this; the idea of both was intolerable and of all of them Sam had the best chance of getting out of here.
But Dean called the demon back off Sam and the demon obliged, renewing its attack. John knew without a doubt that Dean was going to die horribly and painfully when the demon's rage turned white hot at Dean's taunts, and the look on Dean's face told John that he knew it too.
Looking through lowered eyes, John was almost grateful that he couldn't see Dean's face anymore, that he couldn't see what the demon was doing, but within his strange prison, he saw the damage being visualised by the demon. He could see the demon mentally feeling his way into Dean's chest, heading unerringly for the heart. The slight hesitation as the demon decided the heart would be too quick and slid to the side, ripping flesh, sliding between bones and splitting skin. John flinched at Dean's cry and screamed at the demon to stop.
But there was no quarter as the demon delved back in, delicately slicing through the plural cavity and cracking the lung and Dean screamed, Sam screamed and John tried to block it all out. Passing through torn flesh, cutting carelessly and listening to Dean beg his father for his life was more than John could bear. He struck out in his own rage at his prison walls.
And felt something give. The demon was highly focussed on his torture, the power levels holding John prisoner lowered. John tried to burst through, fight the demon for control of his own body.
The demon found the main artery and nicked it, and John saw Dean's face bloody and anguished and absolutely the worst thing of all, disappointed, before his head fell, thick blood dribbling from his mouth and John broke through, not by much, but it was enough.
Enough that the demon's hold over Sam was briefly broken.
The bullet hurt John, but it made the demon scream and it made John scream as it dug into his brain, trying to hold on in the face of the magic trying to dispel it.
Sam could kill it, John was certain and he told Sam to do it, gave him permission and ordered him. But Sam was undecided; Dean's whispering voice at odds with what John was trying to have him do. Dean didn't understand the need that drove John and Sam, and John tried to appeal to that part of Sam that needed the demon's destruction. It was so close, and Sam was so torn, but this would end it all.
But in the end, Sam couldn't do it either, and the demon departed him as painfully as it could, screaming it's vow to return for vengeance.
John didn't really remember getting into the car. Vague images of Sam mostly carrying Dean, talking to him in a low voice, encouraging noises under Dean's grunts of pain as he tried to walk. He knew he'd concentrated on following them and thought he might have passed out at some point, realising that he was in the front seat next to Sam as Sam turned the ignition, leaving Dean to take as much room as he needed in the back.
Not knowing what to say, John said nothing for a while. He didn't think he'd been that bad a father, he thought he'd done his best, but the demon had made it all sound as if he'd been a monster to his sons. The confirmation that Sam was a part of the demon's plan was terrifying to him, and he couldn't even begin to think about Dean and what he had done to him, couldn't even bring himself to look at his eldest son, for which he was bitterly ashamed.
But if Sam had killed him and the demon as he'd wanted, John wouldn't have had to deal with any of this. It would simply have been all over. So, floundering and needing to regain some control over his own violated mind, he let his mouth do the talking and lashed out at Sam.
And Sam returned the volley, letting him know with a glance in the rear view mirror that he was going to look out for Dean even if no one else was, which hurt more than John cared to examine right -
Bright white light that accompanied screaming metal and John didn't think about anything anymore.